Josselson’s Theory of Identity Development

Brief Overview

Ruthellen Josselson’s Identity Theory explores why some women encounter a crisis, and whether or not they integrate that into their identity. This theory takes James Marcia’s four identity groups and applies them to women. These four groups include foreclosures/gatekeepers, identity achievers/pathmakers, moratoriums/searchers, and identity diffusions/drifters. Women fit into one of these four groups based on experiencing a crisis and commitment of identity.

Printable Summary (PDF)

Previous cohorts of FSU students have developed these printable summaries and used them to prepare for test and papers.  We hope they’ll be of help to you too.

Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory

Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory:  

  • Four pathways are described under Josselson’s Theory:
  • Foreclosures: Purveryors of the Heritage (Guardians)
    • Women move into adulthood with a commitment to identity without experiencing any identity crisis
    • Identity Achievements: Pavers of the Way (Pathmakers)
      • Women move away from their childhood identity and create a unique and distinct identity
    • Moratoriums: Daughters of the Crisis (Searchers)
      • Women are in a constant state of exploration with their identity
      • Family values and a sense of rightness can be found within this pathway, but will test the waters to see how far they can come to crossing the line between right and wrong
    • Identity Diffusions: Lost and Sometimes Found (Drifters)
      • Women in this pathway represent four patterns:
        • Severe Psychopathology
          • Women in this pattern have had previous unresolved, emotional stress
        • Previous Development Deficits
          • In this pattern women are unable to make commitments because of unreliability in previous interactions
        • Moratorium Diffusion
          • Women in this pattern are heavily exploring and cannot grasp the meaning of life’s perplexities
        • Foreclosed Diffusion
          • Women in this pathway are characterized as neither struggling or committed to an identity
Application of Theory to Practice

This section is designed to provide student affairs professionals, staff, and faculty members with tips and tools to apply theory to practice.

Annotations of Associated Literature
Original Citation
Additional Resources

This page was written and created by Ashlie Baty. The webpage is maintained by Amanda Peerce and Jesse Ford.  For information on the page, please contact Amanda Peerce at or Jesse Ford at